The European elections that took place May 23-26 across the 27 member states have been a major subject of political analysis and fermentation for the past several months. In the Union, this has been felt as a possible turning point for the supranational entity.
The pro-Europe majority of the European Parliament could not ignore the possibility of a Euro-skeptic surge, given the signs already given by the United Kingdom — but also, in a less concrete way, by Le Pen’s France, Salvini’s Italy and Orban’s Hungary. The Hungarian result is still in doubt, due to Orban’s suspension from the European People’s Party (PPE). It was also a question whether the European elections would have followed the historical tradition of incremental absenteeism from the 70s up to 2014. And finally, there were grounds to infer a possible change in the European vote, given concerns about the threat of global warming.
The final election results affirmed that, despite the predictable political situation in particular states, Europe solemnly resisted euro-skepticism in the Parliament.
Salvini’s European Alliance of People and Nations (ex-ENF) gained 37 seats from the last elections in 2014, for a total of 73 out of 751 seats. This outcome was met with mixed emotion, ranging from enthusiasm to fear. The event created an echo chamber across Europe, caused in part by a robust electoral campaign that surfed the wave of nationalism and skepticism. It is worth reframing the phenomenon. First of all, the European Alliance of Party and Nation would need (or need to associate with) another 303 seats in order to form a majority. But also, it had a minor increase with respect to the one of the ALDE, that added 39 new seats, compared to the 37 gained by the ex-ENF, with a quieter attitude.
Nevertheless, the signals launched by the victory of the Party in France and Italy, plus a significant vote bank from Germany, must not be underestimated. For Germany, this result follows the stabilization of the central Christian right and the decay of the Social Democrats. In a pro-Europe environment, the ex-ENF party starts to gain weight as opposition.
Given this political climate, it is possible to understand the importance of the role of the Council of Europe that will have the task of appointing the new President of the Commission, on the basis of the results of the elections.
That does not mean that the poll results delivered a clear linear outcome. Neither the European People’s Party (EPP) nor the Party of European Socialists (PSE) achieved an absolute majority, and they will now face a new scenario, in which cooperation and coordination with the new third pole formed by the Liberals must be reached. This new European character is headed by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), led by Guy Verhofstadt, followed by the En Marche party. The political alternance between the PPE and PSE, as in turns both had the most of the seats in the Parliament and so the largest majority with respect to the other parties, has been significant in the last legislative term in forming the current European Council and Parliament. On one hand, the PPE is that transnational party that regroups the centre right national parties and is characterized by a liberal conservative political vision. On the other hand, the PSE represents, in one transational party, the coalition that conglomerates the affiliated national parties having a central-leftist perspective, and can be defined as a social democratic party.
Secondly, the tradition of incremental electoral absenteeism has been debunked in the last elections. After having experienced a continuous decline in participation over the last 40 years or so, the 2019 elections registered a solid 50.5%, compared with 42.5% in 2014. This new score has to be received with moderate enthusiasm. Admitting that the 50.5% is still not optimal participation, the increase indicates the importance of the European Parliament to European citizens. In any event, the election results provide interesting data that serves to reinterpret the expected Euro-skeptic surge.
Finally, the election results also mirrored rising concern over the climate crisis and pollution. As a result, the emotions of the electorate boosted the results of the Green Party, communicating clearly to the Parliament the priorities of the voters. The increased share of the Party reflects also the importance of the activities of civil society organizations in determining the public agenda. That includes, most notably, the movement started and led by the young Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg.
Before drawing any final conclusions, we should look at the United Kingdom results. The polls saw the failure of the country’s traditional parties of the country, the Labours and the Tories. The two entities combined reached almost 15% of the votes. But Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party were the victors, with the stunning achievement of 28 seats. This not only marks the decay of traditional UK politics, but also hints at a possible general election in the country, given the impending resignation of Theresa May on the 7th of June. This eventuality would change the fate of the country and of its bitter no-deal Brexit.
Any conclusion here would of course be a hot take, given the freshness of the elections. But it is still possible to offer a few thoughts. Despite the much-discussed Euro-skepticism of recent years, that trend finds itself in a small opposition that risks being sidelined from relevant political decisions in the Parliament.This may sound weird, considering the fact that foundational countries like Italy and France experience the trend.
At the moment, the pro-Europe stance endures and will still have time and space to build the path towards a continuation of this model of Europe. Or perhaps it may move toward a more federal model, which only time and political environment will tell. A continuation of the interdependent EU seems the rational and reasonable choice, where countries are not only connected by economic means, but also by juridical ones. If we consider the achievements reached in the field of human rights, and those still has to be achieved, cooperation and interdependence are more than necessary.
It is certain that this election changed the European climate. But instead of the expected nationalist wave, new possibilities have appeared for the EU with the new inclusion of a new pole, the ALDE — that breaks the tradition of Europe as plasmid, molded by the (not very inclusive) cooperation between PPE and PSE. Early evidence of this change of character may be found in the appointment of the President of the European Commission, which could be a representative of the Greens or the Liberal Parties. This, at the moment, represents the only radical change produced by these elections, though far from the most discussed.